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Scott Ostler

Bo Jackson Finally Gets His Head in the Game

November 23, 1987|Scott Ostler

Turning the left corner with a head of steam that would peel wallpaper, Bo Jackson was, to paraphrase a baseball expression, looking for a Bronco he could drive.

Ahead loomed Denver cornerback Mike Harden, an eight-year pro who last season was voted Denver's best defensive player. Big and tough.

In his brief career, Bo has been trying to cute people to death, do Gene Kelly numbers around defenders. Raider teammates Marcus Allen and Chris Woods have been encouraging Bo to just go out and hurt folks, do some inflicting.

"I was trying (in past weeks) to run around that last guy," Bo said. "Today I just said, 'The hell with it,' and tried to run him over. I was experimenting this afternoon."

The experiment blew up in Harden's face.

Bo stuck his helmet into Harden's chest and drove the Bronco deep, deep into left field, then continued on to score a 35-yard touchdown, entering the end zone with a pretty dive.

It was an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, spine-chilling, beer-spilling run, a manly man's run. You got your blinding speed, you got your Arnie Schwarzenegger finesse, you got your coup de gras stunt-man finishing move.

It was the play of the season for the Raiders, even though they lost the game, 23-17, a petty detail.

On that play, the Raiders flashed their future. If they can come up with a quarterback, an offensive line, and solve a couple other minor problems, the glory days could return, with Bo showing the way.

The only question is whether or not Bo Jackson will stay with football, or give it a year or two then devote full time to his summer hobby, baseball. He has indicated that football might only be a brief fling, which makes the Raiders very, very nervous, because they've gone ahead and sewed name tags on the backs of Bo's jerseys.

What about it, I asked Bo Sunday. Have you seen enough football to make your final decision?

"Summer, baseball," he said. "Now, football."

You Tarzan. We impressed.

It would be a shame, though, if Jackson retired from football before giving us a chance to see him at his best. He's just getting acclimatized to the game.

"I was comfortable the first week I got here," Bo said in answer to a question about his comfort. "It wasn't all about comfort. It was just getting my timing. And I'm six pounds heavier (than his college weight) and a step slower."

Where did he lose the step?

"I lost it somewhere between here and Kansas City," he said.

Al Davis has dispatched a search party.

Even handicapped by the extra weight and the lead feet, Bo has impressed a lot of people in a hurry. There have been rumors that some Raiders were resentful about the kid reporting late, after baseball, but nobody can substantiate those rumors.

On the contrary. All you hear is good stuff. Marcus Allen, who stands to lose the most personally if Bo continues his mini rampage, has been the perfect gentleman, a regular Cary Grant in cleats. He likes Bo, and he knocked a lot of Broncos out of Bo's way Sunday. Pound for pound, Marcus might be the best blocker in football.

Everyone else seems enthusiastic, too.

"He's God's gift to halfback," said disabled Raider Lester Hayes. "He's a godsend, he's unreal, he was destined to be a football player. He's a step beyond stupendous."

In the midst of a lost season, in Sunday's losing cause, Bo gave the Raiders a reason to go on. He carried 13 times, for 98 yards, a 7.5-yard average. You have to like those guys who get you 7.5 yards a crack. You wonder what he could do with 30 carries.

He also caught five short passes.

And he's human, OK? He dropped a swing pass on the game's opening drive, third-and-five at the Denver 34, a very costly error.

But on that one amazing second-quarter run, he gave Raider fans one play to pop into their VCRs whenever life no longer seems worth living.

Jackson took a pitch from quarterback Marc Wilson, faked right, pivoted smartly and headed left, around the end.

"It was something we tried in practice simply because their defense pursues so hard," Bo said. "It was perfect timing."

But it's only a tiny gain if Harden makes the tackle.

"I expected him to come out and shake me down, get me off balance," Harden said.

Ah, but that was the old Bo, the Wee Willie Keeler of football, hit 'em where they ain't. Harden was about to meet the new Bo, the damn-the-torpedoes, in-your-face Bo.

The encounter was brief, but meaningful.

"It wasn't that painful," Harden said.

Meanwhile, the important thing for the Raiders is to keep Bo in good spirits, not let him get lonely and start getting homesick for Kansas City. Make sure the young man has a good time on his vacation in the big city.

Is Bo having fun so far?

"Yep," he said.

If he ever finds that lost step, it's going to be Raider party time.

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